The technology of 3D printing has impacted our society enormously. Shortly, we might be calling this world a 3D printing world. Doesn’t it sound amazing? As the development in this technology made its way, materials for 3D printing also began to appear. Yes, ABS was first accepted as the most suitable and fit material for 3D printing.
ABS has long been used in 3D printing roughly for the past 20 years. According to a July survey in 2018, ABS is the third most used material in 3D printing with a 14% market share. It is still in use and is popularly known for conventional manufacturing processes.
Now you might be thinking about what actually ABS is? Let’s get straight into this.
What is ABS?
Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) is obtained from petroleum. It is thermoplastic in nature. It is a polymer consisting of 20% acrylonitrile, 25% butadiene, and 55% styrene. The properties of ABS can be altered if there is a change in its composition.
Characteristics of ABS in 3D printing
ABS is a versatile 3D printing material that has several applications in this field. It is known for its resistance properties and has great mechanical strength. It is an excellent choice in manufacturing durable kitchen appliances, automobile parts, and much more. Thanks to its low cost and extraordinary properties.
But wait, this is one side of the picture. What about the other side? ABS has its downside as well. Especially if you are new to this scenario, then working with ABS as a 3D printing material could be quite challenging for you.
Common issues when working with ABS
Before you decide to pick ABS for 3D printing, I would recommend you to have a look at its downside. In this article, I will tell you the issues that you can face when working with ABS. In 3D printing, ABS is challenging material.
Following are the common issues and things to consider when dealing with ABS.
Warping and curling
If you are using ABS in 3D printing, you can surely encounter the problem of warping and curling of the print. This is the biggest issue in ABS printing. I, sometimes, think that ABS is associated with warping. Do you want to know why warping occurs? Let me explain it to you. Distortion occurs because of the temperature difference between the layers of ejected plastic material. The cooling of extruded plastic causes it to shrink and contract.
For instance, 1.5% of shrinkage takes place if printing with ABS is carried out at 230C. Warping can be most irritating for the first layer. Anyway, this makes the other layers to warp and deform as they get separated from the printer bed and destroy your print. The resulting print can warp, curl, and even crack if this problem is not controlled, and your chances of fine print are nowhere. But you do not need to stress about it. I have a solution to your problem.
Just keep going on. To prevent warping and related issues, use a heated bed. This will keep the parts hot, allowing even cooling, and can enhance adhesion to the bed. But what about the larger pieces? For this place the printer in an enclosure. One more thing you can do to increase bed adhesion is to run the fans on low speed or better switch them off during printing to keep the print warm.
ABS is not environmentally friendly. It is toxic and non-biodegradable plastic means it is going to stay there for years and years. Have you thought about where it’s going to last? It poses severe threats to our environment and, of course, to human health. The disposal of ABS creates another fuss.
Emission of fumes and foul smell
If you got to work with ABS in 3D printing, you might have noticed that unpleasant fumes are released along with toxic particles such as VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) and UFPs (ultrafine particles). These particles can come in contact with your eyes, skin, and respiratory tract if inhaled and cause irritation and, in some instances, can be the reason for headache and nausea. You will agree with me if you have experienced that dealing with ABS can be irritating as it produces a disagreeable smell. It is not fatal but is it okay to come in contact with it? No, It can be poisonous and can seriously affect your health. Then why not leave it.
Post-processing can be hazardous
You might have noticed that prints with ABS are dull and uneven. After printing, the finishing touch is given by acetone vapors that enhance the prints’ appearance by making it more smooth and giving a sheen effect. The outcome is excellent, but long term exposure to acetone fumes is unsafe and can severely damage the respiratory tract. Acetone is highly flammable, so you need to be vigilant and cautious while working with it.
Why not pick other printing materials?
Working with Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene(ABS) can be troublesome, especially if you compare it with Polylactic acid(PLA). A high temperature of 230C is required for ABS. In the past years, the world of 3D printing rose to another level. Many new materials have evolved that has made 3D printing much easier as compared to ABS. I know ABS is known for its considerable strength and mechanical properties. But some materials have properties quite similar to ABS.
PET and PETG are worth mentioning examples in this regard. But unlike ABS, they are environmentally friendly and are safe to use. They are easier to print. Then why choose ABS for printing when we have such unique and versatile materials available.
Is ABS poisonous?
ABS can be poisonous to a dangerous extent. In this article, I have mentioned that 3D printing with ABS leads to the release of toxic particles such as VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) and UFPs (ultrafine particles). Ultrafine particles, as the name indicates, are very fine particles about 100nm in diameter.
Due to their small size, they are easily absorbed in our bodies and can be irritating. When inhaled, these particles can enter our respiratory tract, heart, and blood and can severely affect our health if exposed to them at high concentrations. Now let’s talk a bit about Volatile Organic Compounds.
ABS is the source of harmful VOCs, including ethylbenzene, cyclohexanone, butanol, and styrene, which accounts for 30% of all VOCs. VOCs can even damage the whole organ. According to a study, ABS releases these particles 30 to 38 times more than PLA material. Definitely, ABS is deadly.
I know you are wondering that really ABS is this much hateful. Regardless of its drawback, the characteristics of ABS in 3D printing are highly appreciable. ABS is itself a suitable material. I know you are right on your side. I also think that ABS is not that bad. But my point of view is why we still need to pick out ABS when we have much better options.
The 3D printing field has significantly progressed. Several materials are easy to handle and print and are less risky. PET and PETG, having properties much similar to ABS, are more environmentally friendly. Our printer can make better prints while maintaining health.
A 3D printing expert from England, Miles Scott, once said ABS was great while it lasted, but we really need to move on. After reading this article, we’re hoping that we have convinced you why we need to leave ABS.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Is 3D printing with ABS dangerous?
A: Yes, 3D printing with ABS can be dangerous. It is not only hazardous to work, but it is quite challenging, and you must be very cautious and protect yourself. During printing with ABS, the printer ejects toxic fumes and a disagreeable smell. As already discussed, post-processing of ABS prints utilizes highly flammable acetone vapors. One other concern is that it can pollute our environment as it is not easily decomposed. I am sure you have got an idea of how threatening and chancy it is to work with ABS in 3D printing.
Q: Is ABS safe to print?
A: ABS as plastic is safe to use and is in everyday use. But when it comes to printing with ABS, the consequences can be opposing. ABS emits a high concentration of styrene, which was found to be carcinogenic; that is, it increases cancer chances. Styrene may give rise to headaches, nausea, fatigue, and drowsiness.
Q: What are the disadvantages of ABS?
A: With having a number of advantages, there are many drawbacks of ABS. Few of them are:
- It is not easy to handle and makes printing quite tricky.
- It causes warping and curling if the printing surface is not hot enough.
- It has a low melting point and conductivity, so it is not suitable to work with it at high temperatures.
- Printing with ABS requires proper ventilation and enclosure.
- It emits toxic fumes during printing.